Larry Reese has spent more time than he would like staring at blank canvases, wondering where to put the first stroke.
The visual artist, who also teaches film acting at Red Deer College, has often pondering the elusive creation process from a different angle as well. He’s questioned whether something as ephemeral as inspiration can be quantified for his students.
During a sabbatical year away from teaching, Reese decided to try to find out “what does it mean to be creative? And is there a pattern or a consistency to it?”
The result is an 85-minute documentary called Mapping Creativity, which Reese made over the last two years along with his fellow RDC Motion Picture Arts instructor and technician James Wilson.
The film that will be publicly screened, alongside an art exhibit, on Friday, Oct. 28, at the RDC Arts Centre, consists of more than a dozen interviews with Alberta artists, actors, directors, musicians and choreographers.
Among those sharing for the camera their personal creative processes are actors Shaun Johnston (CBC’s Heartland) and Kari Matchett (Skye Wexler on ER), Benalto painter David More, saxophonist P.J. Perry, pianist Tommy Banks, Stony Plains Records owner and CBC/CKUA radio host Holgar Peterson, and the Alberta Ballet’s artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre. Unsurprisingly, none of them offer any pat answers to how to go about filling a blank canvas, song sheet, or stage.
If they did, the film would have lived up to Johnston’s early fears — that he’d end up in some sort of “one-size-fits-all, K-tel infomercial” for how to get creative in three easy steps, said a laughing Reese.
While there’s no single pathway to inspiration, the documentary that grew from a 20-minute short to a full-length feature does reveal common elements to how creative people get the spark to create.
Reese said some use music to get into the mood — including visual artists, and actors who need to get into a certain frame of mind to play a scene.
Some must delve into personal stores of discipline to get writing, painting or creating music. Some, including More, draw on memory and experience to fuel the artistic fire.
“Everybody has a different take on it,” said Wilson — from receiving “bolts of inspiration” from the blue, to the steady workman-like attitude of Perry, who leaves his instrument sitting out in open, so he can pick it up anytime and start playing.
Similarly, “a lot of artists leave their paints out,” said Reese.
He also discovered that many creative people find their spark by first studying the masters — whether it’s emulating Rembrandt’s brush strokes, Charlie Parker’s jazzy notes or Shakespeare’s sonnets, then evolving their own style from what they’ve learned.
Reese points out that even Shakespeare was derivative, retelling stories that had already been told and plays that had already been written.
While he believes few people have the “untangible, unexplainable” spark of genius, the film was able to pinpoint four other levels of creativity, starting with the intuitive talent Reese believes everyone possesses, to the more disciplined academic skills that can lead to experimentation and innovation.
He hopes the educational film, which will be sent to various learning institutions, museums and archives, will help get students — and non-students — motivated to tap into their creativity. “It examines issues and ideas, and hopefully encourages people to exercise and value that which makes us all unique.”
Wilson, who credited Reese for getting the interviews lined up with the Alberta artists, actors and musicians, hopes the documentary helps people from smaller communities realize that location isn’t an impediment to creative success.
The idea that all the great painters live in New York is belied by people such as More, who paints in the tiny hamlet of Benalto but is internationally recognized, added Reese, who called Mapping Creativity a labour of love.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. event are $15.20 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate